“You may find it implausible that we are announcing a world premiere by the venerable (and dead) American composer Aaron Copland,” boasts the press release for saxophonist-composer Christopher Brellochs’s new CD, “Quiet City.”
Implausible, yes, and perhaps only half true. The piece in question is the score Copland wrote to accompany an Irwin Shaw play of the same name. The play flopped after its dress rehearsal in April 1939, never to be produced again. Copland’s original manuscript, which called for a small chamber group made up of trumpet, saxophone, clarinets and piano, was never published. However — and here’s the rub — the composer did convert a substantial portion of his original material into a 10-minute piece for trumpet, English horn and string orchestra. That piece premiered in 1941, and has been performed frequently since. A couple of haunting themes that Copland wrote for Shaw’s “Quiet City” also found their way into his 1940 score for the film adaptation of “Our Town,” which in turn spawned its own orchestral suite.
The bottom line is that, if you’ve heard orchestras play either of the “Quiet City” or “Our Town” suites, you aren’t going to be shocked by what Brellochs has uncovered in the original manuscript. (He came across it during his doctoral studies with saxophonist and historian Paul Cohen at Rutgers University.) There is some never-before heard music in Brellochs’s “new” chamber version of the “Quiet City” material, but the most obvious difference between this and the familiar orchestral piece is the instrumentation: Themes that sound grand and romantic over the swell of strings take on a lonelier, more melancholy quality in the original arrangement.
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